THE recent uptick in discrimination and hate against Asian Americans in the United States has made the entire community wary.
And while countless leaders, including U.S. President Joe Biden, denounced the anti-Asian violence and harassment, little has changed.
In this current social climate, just being outside can become a harrowing experience for an Asian American.
In Tala Dimalanta’s case, it was a bus ride.
The 24-year-old Filipina immigrant was riding the Muni bus, headed to Downtown San Francisco from Inner Sunset, with her roommate on Saturday, April 10, when she was allegedly harassed by two white men.
“The bus was crowded. There were so many of us waiting for it that when we got on, it made the bus crowded. I managed to grab a seat, but my roommate was a little slower and she was stuck by the door. She told me, ‘Tala, there is no space,’ and I asked her, ‘Do you want my seat?’” Dimalanta, an educator and artist, told the Asian Journal in a phone interview.
“A few stops later, some people get off. There was space in the back of the bus so [my roommate] walks past this white man carrying a box, and he looks visibly aggravated, and he moves significantly towards me so that the box was literally an inch away from my face,” she added.
Instinctively, Dimalanta blurted out “Whoa, your box.” To which the man replied with “Yeah, no sh*t it’s crowded.”
However, when Dimalanta suggested moving the box to the man’s side instead of his torso, the response she reportedly got was an aggressive “shut up.”
“At this point my body is just feeling the aggression, but I knew, like, every cell in my body that if I were to scream or just appear threatening at all, I would be in the wrong,” she told the Asian Journal.
Dimalanta also recounted how the man’s partner told her she “invited somebody here,” referring to her roommate, who was a Black woman.
She dismissed him for being a “typical white man,” but her response set off the man’s partner, who began accusing her of allegedly being “racist against white people,” and homophobic. He also asked her if she decided to be an “inconsiderate, hateful person” after waking up that day.
Having no comebacks, Dimalanta decided to record the verbal attack she was receiving.
“I felt like the best thing that I could do was just pull out my phone, and record their reaction, their behavior, because I really felt the aggression in my body, and yet it’s such a private thing,” she explained.
“To other people observing, you can’t tell that they’re being violent or harmful because they’re masking it with this tone of reason. And yet, they are in my space, and they are in my face and subjecting me to all of this verbal attack that I shouldn’t have been subjected to,” she added.
Update: I am a lesbian woman of color, and naming these men’s identity as gay is to name the power that white gay men…
The two men started calling her “crazy” for filming and, at one point, said Dimalanta was “the reason the Bay Area sucks.”
When she retaliated by calling the two men “gentrifiers,” one of them grabbed her phone, scratching her hand in the process.
The commotion, according to Dimalanta, caused the driver to stop the bus and approach the two men to ask them to stop.
“We sat in silence for the rest of the bus ride, and before they got off, they got in my face and they’re all like, ‘I hope you have a nice day, enjoy your life,’” she said.
She maintained that the incident was motivated by racism.
“You could hear them say that my roommate pushed them. She did not. She just walked past them, and he just wanted to like, not be close to her, so that didn’t even happen,” Dimalanta said.
“But just the fact that they’re framing it as a form of aggression on her part, I feel that that is racial because she’s a Black woman. And just the disrespect, like the fact that they almost hit my face. They were clearly in the wrong and yet, they felt zero accountability and had no respect,” she added.
Dimalanta noted that if she were in “a different body,” the incident would not have happened.
“If I were in their shoes, my first instinct would have been to say, ‘Oh, I’m sorry, my bad,’ but instead it was this aggression…I really feel like if I were in a different body, I would not have been treated that way. Because they would’ve had more respect for my space, my time, my personhood,” she said.
Dimalanta also expressed frustration over two passengers for taking the side of the two men.
“A woman of color took their side and then another person of color gave up his seat peacefully and subserviently for these two entitled men,” she recounted.
“[The two men] should have been asked to get off the bus and that’s not what happened,” she added.
However, Dimalanta said she didn’t blame the two passengers for reacting the way they did.
“Typically, for people of color, especially immigrants, we’re so focused on just keeping our heads down, and belonging, and not drawing attention to us…and it manifests in choices like that,” she noted.
She has since posted the video she recorded on Facebook with a message seeking help in identifying the two men.
Dimalanta, who has lived in the Bay Area for the past 11 years, urged her fellow members in the Asian American community to “not apologize” for being in the U.S.
“My number one message is to not apologize for being here…to not allow all the violence to rob us of our ability to enjoy the city, to enjoy public space,” she said.
She added, “I knew that I am valid and my need for these men who just harmed me to be held accountable is valid. And me seeking that accountability is not wrong.”